Saturday, August 1, 2015

Birding Chiapas

Keel-billed Toucan NOT taken in the wild but at the zoo.  It's captive and does not count.  But gods it's a gorgeous bird! To find this bird, go to Palenque, Chiapas. 
Where do I begin?  I suppose from the start, but it will be difficult to incorporate all my thoughts into one post. Over the next several weeks, I'll be covering a lot of different topics from bird photography to group dynamics while birding. In the past, I've always planned and organized my own trips, but for this trek, I let others do it for me.  The allure?  We had great guides lined up for the tours which included some very rare birds on the endemic list.  There were two birds specifically on this trip that were important for me to observe. And one I needed help finding.  

As we flew out into the night skies above Mexico City, I felt homesick for all my friends who live in the surrounding states.  As a younger man, I rented an apartment during a summer in Mexico City, partied in amazing locales, studied at the university in Guadalajara, spent many vacations in Puebla and Tlaxcala, ate at great restaurants and discovered the wonders and beauty of Mexican culture. 

Our destination was Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. This is a state I have never visited before so it was on the top of my list of places to explore. Instead of cultural study, as I usually do, I focused solely on the wildlife and natural parks found around the area. 

Tiger Longwing
Rain forest birding is some of the MOST difficult birding out there.  On our first day in Tuxtla Gutierrez, we were all anxious to get out into the field again and find birds!  On this trip, my friend Gordon got a taste of birding in the tropics for the first time and it was fun to be there with him as he experienced a bit of international birding.  We had many birds to find and so we headed out to the local zoo in Chiapas.  As I've previously mentioned about zoos, they are great places to find local birds within an artificially created safe zone. The birds I present to you all today are wild birds that hung around the zoo(minus the Keel-billed Toucan).  Don't ask me what critters they had in their cages because I won't remember:)  I was more interested in the wild bird population living on the property. 

Plain Chachalaca
Many of our new birds were ground birds like the Plain Chachalaca above.  Around southern Mexico and Guatemala, grouse make for a tasty treat. This is why the Ocellated Turkey is listed as Near Threatened. When I first went to Mexico, I discovered that the country, when compared to other Spanish speaking countries, had been terrible maintaining their wildlife populations. Some states, like San Luis Potosí, had wiped out montane forests. Similar experiences/observations in other Mexican states had me concerned. While hunting may have subsided a bit, it appears habitat loss has become the number one issue for this country. It's also an issue in many parts of the world including the U.S. (but more on that in a few weeks.) With that said, Chiapas has set aside large tracts of rain forest habitat and they currently are working on mangrove restoration along their beaches. The trash issue also seems to be a lot less than I remember!  These are all great things and I hope it continues. 

Plain Chachalaca chick
How about the birds?  Featured above are pics of a Plain Chachalaca.  I was so excited to see these "new" birds. I remember having one perch on my shoulder in Panama, but it was not wild. 

These birds were common and observed on many of our treks around Chiapas. 

Zoomat entrance
Our stop at Zoomat was productive and exciting. Our visit perhaps made us a bit cocky with our cameras.  Birds seemed easy and cooperative to document.  This would NOT be the case for the rest of our trip:) Difficulty level for birding this area: Easy. 

Crested Guan
The next bird featured is the Crested Guan.  I had seen this bird before in Guatemala and this was the ONLY time we saw this bird in Chiapas.  But in the zoo, the birds casually hung in silence above picnic tables or near restaurant stands making me think that they enjoy scraps:)

I think the iguana above was part of the zoo display, but I really don't know.  These large reptiles hang out in many different locations.  On another trek we spotted two of these large lizards in the wild at a local park.  

Green Jay
Also at the zoo?  Green Jays!!!!!!  WOW!  In Chiapas, the Green Jay has yellow eyes.  And on this trip, I learned that the Green Jays in Texas have dark eyes.  Something new I didn't know!

 Fatima Peacock (Anartia fatima)
Wrens in the Neotropical world are awesome.  They have beautiful songs and wonderful coloring. This Banded Wren was a thrill!

Banded Wren
Also very common to the Chiapas landscape?  Russet-crowned Motmots. We had plenty of opportunities to see these birds on many of our outings. 

Russet-crowned Motmot
How about a crazy bird?  This was another bird that was only seen at the zoo.  The Great Curassow is listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss and overhunting.  Here at the zoo, it casually walked the grounds without the fear of either.  Look closely at the pic below to see a young bird walking with the mother. 

Female Great Curassow with chick
It was comical watching people eat at the picnic tables with these large birds walking around them. 

Male Great Curassow versus human butt
I noticed that two of the birds at this zoo had bands on them.^  

Finally today folks, I want to share MY bird of the day along with the endemic black Agouti from the photo below.  I was SO excited to finally see the skittish White-tipped Dove out in the open.  These birds are often heard but rarely seen. It was a bird I already had on my life list but one without photo documentation. It appears that several zoo scraps were enticing enough to lure a couple of these secretive birds from the dark forest. 

White-tipped Dove and Agouti
I could have smacked the birder who said that he wasn't really interested in "doves". "They're drab and boring." I mean...I get where he's coming from here, but still, this is no ordinary dove! It's not often you see these birds so I observed for as long as I could.  Pretty epic moment!  I'm not sure I need to go to Texas anymore after this visit;)

My journeys will continue over the next several weeks.  I'll be sharing thoughts on the pros and cons of guided tours, listers, photography, and of course focusing on some of the most amazing places we stopped to bird. I'll also be featuring beautiful butterflies in several of my posts from Chiapas. So let's get this party started. Until next time friends.......


  1. Hello Chris, what a great way to start of your trip! I love seeing the cute little chicks. And the Green Jay and Wren are awesome. Pretty shot of the Motmot. Great post, thanks for sharing your trip! Happy Birding, have a great weekend!

  2. This was a fun post, Chris. I really enjoyed it. I'm not a birder like you but I enjoy seeing new birds - at least new to me. Just about 15 minutes ago I thought I heard a rattle near the front door. I was sitting with my back to the glass storm door but it wasn't something that I thought needed to be checked on. A few seconds later I heard something similar. I got up and peeked through the glass to find the biggest roadrunner I've ever seen sitting on the deck! He moved to another area for a few seconds and then came back. I grabbed the camera that had the biggest lens on it and tried very quietly to leave from the back door so I wouldn't startle him, but by the time I got to the front he was gone. He may have heard me come out the back. I've seen lots of roadrunners in Texas and Arizona but this guy was a giant! And then the next blog to open was yours!

  3. Yes one would not guess the difficulty level at which you operated for these birds. How fun!

  4. Sounds like this was a wonderful experience and the photos really show it!

  5. Very interesting description of your trip and great to see so many birds - all new for me!

  6. Except for one or two, many of these birds are new to me.
    I liked reading your detailed post and enjoyed the photos very much.
    Have a Great Week!
    Peace :)

  7. Chris, what wonderful photos and birds you saw! It will be fun to read all your forthcoming posts!

  8. What a really exciting trip this must have been! Your stop at the zoo yielded so much! I loved the guan, the green jay and the currasow! All the birds were wonderful! And yes I tend to get a little complacent about the doves who visit my yard, and don't photograph them as much. BUT I'd be excited if I saw a Eurasian collared or this white-tipped! Something new and exotic is always so exciting! (I almost didn't see the agouti in the picture!) And yes, yes, the first shot is of an incredibly beautiful bird! I'm so glad you included it even if he was a zoo resident! He's wonderful!

  9. fantastic collection of birds -- toucans really are amazing!

  10. Interesting to see some new types of birds. We have one here that is a bit similar to your russet-crowned motmot that is called a rainbow bee-eater. That toucan has amazing colours and so does the green jay. Thanks for dropping by. Anne@GritandGiggles

  11. I do like the idea of checking in with the local zoo to get ready for the wild birding. Nice selection here.

  12. Very neat set of birds and their pictures. I was especially interested in the white-tipped dove which, I understand is following the white-winged dove northward. I saw my first ones in south Texas, I think at Laguna Atascosa.


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